Environmentalists lock horns over holistic grazing systems

After The Guardian columnist George Monbiot rubbished Allan Savory’s ‘holistic grazing management’ theory, the Sustainable Food Trust’s Patrick Holden has hit back with an open letter, asking Monbiot not to dismiss the idea so brusquely.

Environmentalist Allan Savory’s TED talk, which has now been viewed 2.6 million times, outlines his supposition that desertification and climate change can be fought through holistic grazing management systems – the stocking of large numbers of livestock on small areas of land for short periods of time. This is a system which, counter to the commonly held view, suggests that an increase in, and a different system of, livestock grazing could reverse such monumental problems.

Savory said about two-thirds of the world is desertifying, and that while this is commonly blamed on livestock grazing, “we were once just a certain that the world was flat – we were wrong then, and we are wrong again”.

But in Monbiot’s Guardian blog article, entitled “Eat more meat and save the world: the latest implausible farming miracle”, Savory’s project is dismissed due to a lack of evidence: “It doesn’t matter how often miracles are disproved; our willingness to believe in them remains undiminished. I would love to believe him. But I’ve been in this game too long to take anything on trust – especially simple solutions to complex problems. The conclusion, overwhelmingly, is that his statements are not supported by empirical evidence and experimental work, and that in crucial respects his techniques do more harm than good.”

However, Holden, former director of the Soil Association, has leapt to the defence of Savory in an open letter addressed to Monbiot. It reads: “In summary, my response is that while accepting your points about the relative scarcity of the scientific evidence supporting his claims, and the possibility that he may have been over-claiming on his assertion that such methods could have the capacity of ‘reducing CO2 to preindustrial levels’, I still think he may well be right.”

Holden goes on to outline why he believes the theory makes sense, and how similar ‘holistic’ methods have been effective on his own farm.

He added: “I can imagine, in response, you might say ‘show me the science’, which would be perfectly legitimate, but before we are able to amass a sufficient body of research to validate the concerns of skeptics, I would urge you to be a little more cautious before you throw this particular grass-fed ruminant baby out with the collective bath water of intensive livestock farming.”

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